Much of a muchness


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Much of a muchness'?

Similar – difficult to distinguish.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Much of a muchness'?

Shakespeare coined the words ‘countless’, silliness’, ‘tardiness’ and many others of the same form. ‘Muchness’ sounds typical of the Bard’s work and it seems a fair bet that it was one of his inventions. In fact, the word was in use by the 14th century, pre-dating Shakespeare by more than a century. Also, the Shakespearian-sounding phrase ‘much of a muchness’ first appeared considerably later, in the play The Provok’d Husband, 1728, which was a collaboration between John Vanbrugh and Colley Cibber:

Man: I hope.., you and your good Woman agree still.
J. Moody: Ay! ay! much of a Muchness.

Muchness means physical magnitude or largeness and is derived from the earlier word mickleness.

Much of a muchness has remained as part of the language since Vanbrugh’s day, but has never been commonplace. It is rather and odd phrase on the face of it as, in literal terms, it just means ‘of a similar quality of being much’. Lewis Carroll picked up on that oddness when, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865, he had the Dormouse ask Alice “That begins with an M, such as… muchness – you know you say things are ‘much of a muchness’ – did you ever see… a drawing of a muchness?”

Trend of much of a muchness in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.